Seven Ways US College Admissions Differs for International Students

Being an international student can make an already difficult process even more daunting. This article was based on unexpected sources of stress that cropped up for my former students during their application processes.  It was supported by further research into top US universities and their specific international procedures.

First of all, who qualifies as an international student?  A good rule of thumb is that if you need a visa to study in the United States (even if you have a pending Green Card application, for example), you are an international student.  If you already have a Green Card, then you typically qualify as domestic, but should check each of the following factors at each university of interest to be sure.

Deadlines: Applications, Financial Deadlines, Standardized Testing

  • 1. Applications: Typically, deadlines for applications are the same for international students as for domestic students except in a few rare cases. However, since internationals need to apply for and await approval of their student visas, I still recommend applying by the end of March, even for schools that have rolling admissions until May or June for admission that September.
  • 2. Financial deadlines: International aid has different considerations, so the deadlines for aid or scholarships may be sometimes take place earlier for foreigners. This will differ by university.
  • 3. Standardized testing: Any candidates testing at a non-US center must register by the registration deadline: the “late registration deadline” only applies to US centers.

Fee Waiver Eligibility

  • Some fee waivers are easily available to international students if approved by your school guidance counselor e.g. Common App.  Other waivers, such as those for the SAT and ACT are only available to U.S. citizens.  Still others, such as individual school applications, can be obtained by internationals but with considerably more difficulty.

Financial Aid: Grants, Scholarships, Loans and Work Study

Understanding the ins and outs of financial aid is a time-consuming process and more stressful for internationals.

  • 1. Some schools are need-blind and/ or need-based for citizens but not for internationals. For example, some might be need-based for internationals but not need-blind (i.e. identical domestic and international applicants would have different chances of getting into those schools.)
  • 2. Some scholarships are only open to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
  • 3. Some loans, e.g. federal loans, are only available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
  • 4. The process and forms that need to be filled out are slightly different. FAFSA for example is a federal aid form that internationals should not submit, although some universities may ask candidates to fill it out and submit internally as part of the application process. Internationals on the other hand need to fill out the CSS profile if they are applying for financial aid.

Extra Application Requirements

  • There may be some extra requirements that are requested either in the application.  Universities may also contact you, after you submit an application, to request more information.  Always monitor communications from your universities closely.  Examples of additional requests include: Proof of English language proficiency (usually waived), certification of finances (usually one-year’s tuition), transcript evaluation.

Contextual Chances of Admission

  • Schools typically have approximate quotas of internationals as a whole and by different regions.  This may work for you or against you, depending on the college and depending on your competition in the region within a particular year.  Reading about a college’s diversity initiatives and international acceptance rates is a useful measure of what your chances of acceptance might be.

Post-Acceptance Requirements

  • Joseph Herrera laid these out well in his IvyEdge Global article.  Internationals are required to obtain visas, immunizations, and sometimes more information even after they have accepted a school’s offer of admission.

Sports recruiting

  • If you are being formally recruited to colleges or eventually want to take this route, there is too much that would have to be included in this article.  The college coaches should have all the information that you need; I simply wanted to make future student-athletes aware of their international status as a potential consideration.

Once students arrive at college, there are culture shocks to be overcome, questions about internships and jobs to be answered, and resources to be explored.  This article does not address the aspects of what being international in college means for a student.  I will do so in a future article.

Some disclaimers.  First, while this article sheds light on some of the finer print of being international, remember that each university has its own nuances. It is therefore important to check the international requirements at every school to which you are applying.  Second, this article focuses on the differences between regular and international admissions, which assumes that the reader already has some advance knowledge of the application process e.g. typical application deadline dates (between October and June), or the differences between need-based and need-blind financial aid.  Third, this is meant for first-time undergraduate applicants.  The policies for graduate schools and transfer applicants may be similar but not entirely the same.

I hope that this article will make or has made the application process easier for internationals out there. As always, questions and comments are welcome!

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